Mayo Clinic researchers have shown that increased levels of C-reactive protein in the blood are associated with the stiffening of the arteries.
This finding could lead to new and improved public health strategies to prevent heart disease, such as developing drugs that suppress inflammation to improve the health of arteries before full-blown heart disease develops.
The Mayo Clinic research report appears online and in the August issue of the American Journal of Hypertension.
The Mayo Clinic collaborative study with researchers from the University of Michigan looked at 214 men and women with an average age of 59, who had no history of heart attack or stroke. Results suggest that low-grade inflammation is associated with arterial stiffness (hardening). This inflammation may be a potential mechanism through which C-reactive protein is related to heart attack and stroke, and why testing for C-reactive protein in a blood test may be an effective early warning test for asymptomatic, or presymptomatic heart disease.
Researchers around the world agree that C-reactive protein is associated with increased risk of heart attack and stroke. But it remains controversial whether C-reactive protein is a risk factor that affects the function of blood vessels, or if it is simply a marker signifying the presence of disease.
In addition to taking into account the traditional risk factors for heart diseasesuch as male sex, presence of diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smokingthe research team also measured C-reactive protein levels as well as three indicators of arterial stiffness. Stiffening of arteries indicates a loss of their elastic properties and predisposes to heart attack, stroke and congestive heart failure.
The current inability to accurately predict cardiovascular events such as heart attack is a problem. The researchers said that their study provides a new insight into how low grade inflammation could be related to heart and stroke by its association with arterial stiffness. Thus suppression of inflammation may be a target of drug therapy to improve arterial health.